Around Kolkata Part One

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February 3rd 2010
Published: March 21st 2010
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3/2/10: I had the best night sleep in a long time and the cool winter temperature of Kolkata made it a pleasure to sleep in. We woke up at 7:00 Kolkata time and I finished some more of my blog until Jacinta woke up. In the safety of our room it was hard to believe we were in India until a half hour later the constant honking of horns started. There was one driver that sat on his horn for at least a minute and I was sure it got stuck or something. We took our time getting ready for our first experience in India and by the time we packed and left it was almost 11:00. I think Jacinta had butterflies and didn’t know if she was strong enough to cope. We walked out and headed for Sudder St were the main backpacker accommodation is located. We needed to find a cheaper guest house and book our train tickets to Varanasi. We were also getting hungry and couldn’t wait to taste what India had to offer. Walking through the streets was amazing, there were rickshaws, funny old yellow taxis, hundreds of people, children, beggars everywhere and everyone wanted something from you. The filth and rubbish was to be expected but what I didn’t expect was the smell of Kolkata or the lack of it. The air almost had a sweet curry or spice smell to it and this was consistent everywhere in Kolkata. We found accommodation and organised our train tickets, we also had something to eat in a rather small restaurant that manages to fit as many people as possible into a room 7x4m, there were allot of backpackers and travellers eating here so it must of have been alright. We had two beautiful vegetarian curry dishes with naan bread and it really hit the spot. We walked some 2km in the direction of Victoria Memorial as it was a major land mark in Kolkata. On the way we kept getting hassled by beggars and homeless. The main beggars that really need the money don’t or shall I say can’t hassle you because they have missing limbs, or the blind that are being led around by a child. We passed through street markets on the way and Jacinta felt uncomfortable because all the men were staring at her. She had never got this much attention before and didn’t like it at all. Walking through the crowds some men would purposely brushed up against her and one managed to touch her breast. I could imagine there would be a lot more of this in the coming months in India and Jacinta would better cope. Victoria Memorial and the grounds were huge and it was very quiet, this gave our ears a rest. Inside we weren't allowed to take photos but basically they had paintings that dated back 200 years and mostly depicted the early settlement of the British empire. There were some street carts selling some sort of puffed rice with spices called Bahl Puri. I was curious to give it a go but when he proceeded to crush, scoop and mix everything with his hand I was disappointed that the snack was now spoiled, not wanting to get sick we gave the untouched meal to a homeless lady. You would understand this when you see most Indians picking their nose, going to the toilet in public without washing and I also witnessed another man selling the same snack food but picking a scab on his leg before serving a unsuspecting Indian customer. By the time we got back to the guesthouse 6hours later we were hungry again. We went for a roam around Kolkata at night to find some authentic Indian restaurant but could only find Chinese restaurants, I suppose it makes sense that when Indians want to go out they don't want to eat Indian food. We ended up passing a little Indian food stall that served a naan rolled up with egg onions and spices. They had just made a fresh batch in front of us and we pounced on them straight away. They were really nice and I was surprised how full I got from my still shrunken stomach.

4/2/10: Another great sleep and when you slowly emerged from dreaming into reality the continuous honking of horns outside reminded you of what we had to endure for the day. We checked out from our hotel around 11:00 and started to walk the 1km journey to our next hotel. We had to stop at a clothes shop to pick up Jacinta’s traditional Indian dress that we bought for her in an attempt to blend in with the Indian people. She was having a hard time dealing with fact that all the men kept staring at her and it was almost like they hadn’t seen a western white women before. We got into our room only to drop our stuff and go back out to try and find Mother Teresa’s house that was not far from here. We relied on the directions of the hotel clerk to point us in the right direction, this proved to be the worst directions we have received as it sent us in the totally opposite direction. On the way to getting lost we decided to get a prepaid mobile card as internet cafés were few and far between so it would just make it easier to pre book accommodation with a phone. Well, we had no idea that this would be such an issue and it took 45mins to get hooked up with a phone number because of all the paper work and security. This was due to the Mumbai bombings and this was why the security was so bad at the airport. The terrorist responsible lived and hid in Kolkata somewhere so from what I had gathered was the security was more thorough here than the rest of India. Finally with a working mobile we headed back to try Mother Teresa’s house again, we walked in the direction that the map indicated but map was on a very small scale and didn’t have much detail. We were at the mercy of the locals to point us in the right direction, this proved useless and an hour later getting more and more lost we needed to take some time out away from ear piercing noise of honking horns and traffic. Even though we were having trouble finding the house it still made for an interesting walk with something new to see every 100m or so. It’s not every day you get to see people pissing in the gutter, goats in the street, cows in the traffic, thousands of poor people, beggars continuously asking for food, people that appear to be dead but are sleeping in the most uncomfortable place or have no home at all, people bathing and washing from hand levered pump. The once paved pathways that have been dug up for services and filled back over to create a pile of dirt and rubble that will easily twist an ankle in seconds. The once grand and beautiful colonial buildings that have been neglected and run down after ceasing of British rule , people eating in the most unhygienic food stalls and eating with their hands that have touched the filth that surrounds them, not being able to eat yourself on the street without someone begging for your food. This is what makes India so real and confronting and even though you would think that this is horrible and why would anyone ever want to travel here the reality is this happens every day whether you are here or not so to see it and live it is an adventure within itself and your curiosity drives you to the next intersection, corner or short cut through an alley way. So if you could call them negatives there’s also positives, the yummy food that awakens your tastebuds, how cheap the shopping and everything is, the history that surrounds India and its interesting past, the things you just won’t see anywhere else in the world, the deep rooted Indian culture and not to mention the sweet spice smell of India where ever you walk.
We past an internet cafe and just to use the internet had to go through the whole security process again. We had to call our parents to let them know that we were OK. We finished up and pushed on to finally arrive at Mother Teresa’s House, and wouldn’t you know in it was shut on Thursdays. We could only view her grave and the Nun said to come back tomorrow. We walked out and the Indian lady that was sitting 10m away from the house thought she did us a service by showing us the front entry and asked for money, where was she an 1 ½ ago? We brushed the lady aside and carried our walk back to the hotel and then to have a cold shower before getting ready to shout ourselves a night out at the cinemas to watch AVATAR in 3D. It was only supposed to take 30min to get there and took 45min and the movie was supposed to start at 7:30 but started at 7:15 so needless to say we missed the first 15min of the movie.
The movie in 3D was incredible and I find it hard to believe that anything could come close to such a brilliant film.

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